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New approach to rehabilitating women convicted of crime in Kent, Surrey and Sussex

21 May 2018

Kent, Surrey and Sussex Community Rehabilitation Company (KSS CRC), the agency responsible for supervising low and medium risk offenders in the region, this week unveils a new approach to rehabilitating women convicted of crime.

The new strategy is in response to stark data showing that women are more likely to be sentenced to prison than men for non-violent crimes.  Within the prison population, 71 per cent of men are convicted for non-violent offences while for women the figure rises to 83 per cent.  Figures from the Brighton Women’s Centre, which has already worked with KSS CRC throughout Sussex under a programme called ‘Inspire’ show that six in ten women serving a community sentence or are under supervision have also been a victim of domestic abuse. 

Up to 50 probation officers will receive new training, based on a trauma-informed approach, which recognises that many women under community supervision are also victims of serious crimes.  It will help officers to give women greater confidence to tackle the reasons for their offending and engage with housing, education and other support services.  The training was developed in partnership with the Brighton Women’s Centre and the first group of probation officers will qualify in July 2018. 

New programmes will also be made available to judges and magistrates to help turn women away from offending and prison.  A new six-week intervention will help women to identify their strengths, set goals and point them towards partner agencies for support.  An intensive alternative to custody will also be piloted to allow courts to mandate intensive supervision and support to tackle housing, training or other problems that drive offending, to divert women away from prison. 

Of the 9,100 clients under KSS CRC supervision at any one time, around 1,200 (13 per cent) are women.  KSS CRC head of rehabilitation Claire Jones will lead the new strategy, which it is hoped will address the causes of women’s offending, intervene before women are sentenced to custody and reduce harm to their children, families and wider community.

The results of the new strategy will be monitored closely by KSS CRC’s research unit, which launched last month.

KSS CRC chief executive officer, Suki Binning, said:

“It’s time to end the disparity that sees more women locked up for non-violent offences than men and this approach will give judges and magistrates a robust alternative to handing down a prison sentence. A mix of community payback and programmes or intensive support that address the causes of offending is more likely to rehabilitate women than a spell behind bars which can result in homelessness, family breakup and a return to coercive relationships or crime. 

“We are determined to work in collaboration with our specialist partners across the region to turn women away from crime, so they can build better lives for themselves, their children and our communities.”

KSS CRC head of rehabilitation and lead for women, Claire Jones, said:

“We often see a set of complex needs at the root of women’s offending, including coercive relationships and housing, education or substance misuse problems. If we are to rehabilitate women successfully, we also need to recognise that many of those we work with are often vulnerable or are the victims of crime themselves.  The new training and programmes will help our team of specialist probation officers to provide a safe environment to understand the causes of women’s offending, identify their strengths and provide a path out of criminality.”

Brighton Women’s Centre partnerships and development manager with oversight for Inspire, Sophie Gibson, said:

“With over forty years’ experience we know that our woman-centred approach can unlock solutions to the complex issues faced by women with multiple disadvantage. Specially trained staff support women from a place of being isolated and stuck to feeling motivated and able to take responsibility for their lives. Being able to access consistent support in a safe, women only environment is crucial. 

“Brighton Women’s Centre understands where inequality is most damaging and has demonstrated through the Government's Justice data lab the effectiveness of our approach to reducing offending behaviour.”

Prison Reform Trust programme director for reducing women’s imprisonment, Jenny Earle, said:

“It’s to be welcomed that Kent Surrey and Sussex Community Rehabilitation Company has a dedicated women’s strategy with a focus on community support that enables women to address the factors underlying their offending, which often include domestic abuse and coercive relationships.

“Sending women to prison generally does more harm than good, and often means that their children suffer too. Women need help to turn their lives around. Investment in women’s services like Brighton Women’s Centre and training for community rehabilitation company staff are positive initiatives that will deliver dividends to women, their families and the local community.”

KSS CRC client, Sandra Weir, who supports other women in the region supervised by probation services, said:

“We desperately need a new approach to help women overcome their problems in the community. Local authorities kick women sent to prison out of their homes, even on relatively short sentences.  Others have their children taken away and still more are unable to get into training, education or work because of bureaucratic and legal barriers.  I want to see more women gain greater confidence and hope that this new approach starts a new way of helping women to solve their problems in the community before they end up behind bars or kicked out of their home.”

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